Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor's Name

Norman Munroe

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

Xiang Yang Zhou

Third Advisor's Name

Hongtan Liu

Fourth Advisor's Name

Berrin Tansel

Fifth Advisor's Name

Won Bong Choi

Sixth Advisor's Name

Yiding Cao

Date of Defense



A two-phase three-dimensional computational model of an intermediate temperature (120 - 190 ˚C) proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell is presented. This represents the first attempt to model PEM fuel cells employing intermediate temperature membranes, in this case, phosphoric acid doped polybenzimidazole (PBI). To date, mathematical modeling of PEM fuel cells has been restricted to low temperature operation, especially to those employing Nafion® membranes; while research on PBI as an intermediate temperature membrane has been solely at the experimental level. This work is an advancement in the state of the art of both these fields of research. With a growing trend toward higher temperature operation of PEM fuel cells, mathematical modeling of such systems is necessary to help hasten the development of the technology and highlight areas where research should be focused.

This mathematical model accounted for all the major transport and polarization processes occurring inside the fuel cell, including the two phase phenomenon of gas dissolution in the polymer electrolyte. Results were presented for polarization performance, flux distributions, concentration variations in both the gaseous and aqueous phases, and temperature variations for various heat management strategies. The model predictions matched well with published experimental data, and were self-consistent.

The major finding of this research was that, due to the transport limitations imposed by the use of phosphoric acid as a doping agent, namely low solubility and diffusivity of dissolved gases and anion adsorption onto catalyst sites, the catalyst utilization is very low (~1 - 2 %). Significant cost savings were predicted with the use of advanced catalyst deposition techniques that would greatly reduce the eventual thickness of the catalyst layer, and subsequently improve catalyst utilization. The model also predicted that an increase in power output in the order of 50% is expected if alternative doping agents to phosphoric acid can be found, which afford better transport properties of dissolved gases, reduced anion adsorption onto catalyst sites, and which maintain stability and conductive properties at elevated temperatures.





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